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Federal BLM Land Use Plan Amendment Process (1-FD-b)

Activities conducted on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed federal lands must conform to the BLM's Land Use Plan (LUP), or the plan must be amended to allow for the planned activity. See 43 CFR 1610.5-3. This section describes the process used by the BLM to amend a land use plan. If a plan does not exist in your activity area, or if a revision is required, see Bureau of Land Management - Land Use Planning Process:
1-(FD)-a
.


The BLM LUPs, also known as Resource Management Plans (RMPs) (or Management Framework Plans (MFPs) where the LUP has not been revised since the enactment of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA)), are designed to provide guidance for future management actions and the development of subsequent, more detailed and limited-scope plans for resources and uses.

RMPs are used by the BLM to accomplish the following:

  1. Allocate resources and determine appropriate multiple uses for the public lands;
  2. Develop a strategy to manage and protect resources; and
  3. Establish systems to monitor and evaluate the status of resources and the effectiveness of management practices over time.

See the BLM Land Use Planning Page.

FLPMA authorizes the BLM to grant rights-of-way for the generation, transmission and distribution of electric energy. BLM regulations governing rights-of-way can be found at 43 CFR 2800 et seq. The BLM will not issue a right-of-way unless the proposed project conforms to the current RMP. If the project does not conform to the RMP, the project must be restructured or the RMP must be amended or revised.

Amending an RMP involves changing one or more of the plan’s components. An amendment is initiated when a proposed action requires a change in terms, conditions and decisions of the approved plan. All amendments to RMPs must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In some cases, NEPA compliance requires the BLM to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed amendment. Unlike plan revisions, however, an amendment to an RMP may not require an EIS where a Categorical Exclusion (CE) applies or where an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) will suffice. An EA and FONSI will suffice when the agency finds that there will be no significant impact on the environment. If an EIS is required, the amendment process is identical to the revision process. See Bureau of Land Management - Land Use Planning Process:
1-(FD)-a
. If an EIS is not required, the amendment process is similar to the revision process, but with fewer steps, some of which are optional.

The amendment process is tailored to the anticipated level of public interest and potential for significant impacts. The number of steps in the amendment process and extent of work involved with each step varies with the complexity of identified planning issues. For more information, see the BLM Land Use Planning Handbook.

Regulations governing RMP amendments can be found in 43 CFR 1610 et seq..

Transmission

Transmission lines on BLM land are often sited within ROW corridors. Section 503 of FLPMA requires the Secretary of the Interior to establish ROW corridors to the extent practical and to reserve in each ROW grant the right to grant additional ROWs for compatible uses on or adjacent to the issued ROW. BLM manual section 2802.1(B)(1) establishes the BLM corridor philosophy, which states that “[w]henever possible the BLM will manage ROW use of public land through a system of designated corridors. Use of designated corridors for future ROW grants will be actively encouraged by the BLM.” BLM manual 2802.1(B)(1).

The designated corridors are the preferred sites for ROWs and applicants are encouraged to site transmission lines within them, although the use of a corridor is not required. Corridors are generally established through the RMP amendment process. See BLM manual 2802.1(B)(1)&(2). If the project is sited within an established ROW corridor, no amendment is necessary.

It should also be noted that many western RMPs have already been amended by the BLM’s West Wide Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), in accordance with section 368 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), to create West Wide (also known as section 368) transmission corridors. Projects sited within Section 368 Corridors require no further amendments or revisions to RMPs. If the project is not sited within a Section 368 Corridor or some other established corridor, an RMP amendment may be necessary.

Solar

On October 10, 2012 the BLM issued a record of decision (ROD) for the solar programmatic environmental impact statement (SPEIS) that created a Solar Energy Program for six southwestern states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The Solar Energy Program divides BLM managed land within those states into three zones for purposes of utility-scale solar development: Solar Energy Zones (SEZs), variance areas and exclusion areas. The Solar Energy Program is intended to make utility-scale solar permitting more efficient, standardized and environmentally responsible. In addition to updating and altering the solar energy development policy for areas within the Solar Energy Program, the SPEIS also amended all 89 RMPs within the affected area. The amendments identified SEZs, variance areas and exclusion areas within the unit governed by each RMP. Projects sited within the affected areas will not require a revision or an amendment. Projects sited outside of the affected areas may still require an amendment. Maps delineating SEZs, variance areas and exclusion areas for each of the six states can be found at Argonne National Laboratory's Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS Website.

Geothermal

BLM issues geothermal leases for exploration and development on lands managed by other Federal agencies including the USFS, Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), and Fish and Wildlife Service with their consent.

If lands administered under the USFS FMP are nominated for geothermal leasing, a leasing analysis (NEPA evaluation) is conducted to determine whether the proposed leasing is compatible with the plan, and if so will consent to leasing.

In December 2008, the BLM and USFS, in cooperation with the United States Department of Energy, issued a Record of Decision (ROD) and Resource Management Plan Amendments for Geothermal Leasing in the Western United States. The ROD amended 114 BLM and land use plans in the 11 western states and Alaska for geothermal leasing. The EIS provides the framework for the USFS to address pending geothermal lease applications and future determinations for geothermal leasing.


BLM Land Use Plan Amendment Process Process

1-FD-b.1 — Compile Resource Inventories

A resource inventory should be compiled by the BLM as needed, but is most useful prior to the analysis of the management situation.

1-FD-b.2 — Preparation Plan (Optional)

Although not required for an RMP amendment, field offices are strongly encouraged to engage in preplanning activities, including the development of a preparation plan. The preparation plan is designed to identify the issues to be addressed and the data and skills needed to address them. It should also include preliminary planning criteria and a preliminary budget used to secure funding. The preparation plan should be brief and concise and should provide “management direction, oversight, structure, cost estimate, and focus for the planning process.” See BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, page 18. If the field office chooses not to write a preparation plan, steps should be taken to ensure “efficient and effective planning efforts.” See BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, page 26.

1-FD-b.3 — Analyze Land Management Situation (Optional)

The BLM may (but is not required to) analyze the current land management situation when amending an RMP. If the BLM chooses to analyze the land management situation, it should analyze inventory data and other resources to “characterize the resource area profile, portray the existing management situation, and identify management opportunities to respond to identified issues.” See BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, page 19. The analysis will become the basis for the formulation of reasonable alternatives. If the BLM chooses not to conduct a formal analysis, it should still endeavor to “…understand current conditions and trends of the resources and the uses/activities that will relate to potential decisions in the plan amendment” before formulating alternatives. The BLM should also gather and supplement data regarding the amendment as early as possible. See BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, page 26.

1-FD-b.4 — Documented Results in an Analysis of the Management Situation (AMS) (Optional)

If the BLM chooses to analyze the land management situation, it should produce a report called the Analysis of the Management Situation (AMS). The report (or a summary) should be made available to the public. Work on the AMS can begin as soon as the amendment project is approved. The BLM may reference and/or augment the existing AMS rather than create a new one.

1-FD-b.5 to 1-FD-b.6 — Review Preparation Plan; Notice of Intent to Prepare RMP Amendment

43 CFR 1610.2 requires the BLM to publish a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare the RMP amendment in the Federal Register. Once the NOI is published, the amendment process begins.

1-FD-b.7 - Conduct Scoping Analysis

Scoping is defined by 40 CFR 1501.7 as “an early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action.” Although NEPA does not require scoping for EAs, the BLM Land Use Planning Handbook states that an “appropriate level” of scoping is required for RMP amendments. The decision-maker determines what the “appropriate level” of scoping is. General factors to be considered include: the size or scale of the proposed action; whether the proposal is routine or unique; who might be interested or affected; and whether or not external scoping has been conducted for similar projects and what the results have been. At a minimum, the BLM must allow a 30-day public comment period on issues and planning criteria, but more in depth scoping should be conducted if necessary.

1-FD-a.8 — Consult with Contractor, As Needed

Consultation and coordination is an ongoing process during the RMP amendment process when a contractor prepares any of the documents.

1-FD-a.9 — Conduct Meetings, Hearings, Advisement As Needed

Public involvement entails “[t]he opportunity for participation by affected citizens in rule making, decision-making, and planning with respect to the public lands, including public meetings or hearings . . . or advisory mechanisms, or other such procedures as may be necessary to provide public comment in a particular instance.” See 43 U.S.C. 1702(d). Several laws and Executive orders set forth public involvement requirements, including maintaining public participation records. The BLM planning regulations at 43 CFR 1601-1610 and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations at 40 CFR 1500-1508 provide specific points for public involvement in the environmental analysis, land use planning, and implementation decision-making processes to address local, regional, and national interests. The NEPA requirements associated with planning are incorporated into the planning regulations.

1-FD-a.10 to 1-FD-a.11 — Make Planning Criteria Available to the Public; Comment on Planning Criteria

As stated in 1-FD-a.12, the BLM must allow a 30-day public comment period on issues and planning criteria. The planning criteria are prepared by the Field Manager. The Field Manager may not approve the criteria for use in the planning process until the comment period has expired.

1-FD-a.12 — Scoping Report

After scoping is concluded, the BLM must document the results. A scoping report may be produced by the local field office. Alternatively, the results may be included in the draft plan amendment and EA or the proposed amendment/EA (if a draft plan amendment and EA is not prepared). If a report is prepared, it should summarize the comments received and describe the issues discussed during the scoping process.

1-FD-b.13 to 1-FD-b.14 — Formulate Alternatives, Analyze Effects of Alternatives; Consult with Contractor as Needed

Formulate Alternatives

43 CFR 1610.4-5 instructs the BLM to consider “all reasonable resource management alternatives and develop several complete alternatives for detailed study.” The alternatives should be appropriate for EA-level planning efforts. Formulation of alternatives should draw on both the AMS and the scoping report (to the extent that they exist). Alternatives should “reflect the variety of issues and guidance applicable to the resource uses.” See 43 CFR 1610.4-5. In addition, alternatives should include desired outcomes and allowable uses and actions anticipated to achieve those outcomes. See BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, page 20.

The BLM Land Use Planning Handbook outlines a number of important concepts that should be considered when formulating alternatives:

  • The BLM must consider all reasonable alternatives, including the no action alternative (the continuation of present levels or systems of resource use). Some alternatives, including the no action alternative, may be developed for detailed study, while others are considered but not analyzed in detail. Both types of alternatives are described in the RMP/EIS. The rationale for the alternatives should be briefly described to document why certain alternatives were not studied in detail (43 CFR 1610.4-5). An example may be that one alternative is a reasonable variation of an existing alternative analyzed in detail.
  • Reasonable alternatives analyzed in detail meet the purpose and need of the project and can be feasibly carried out based on estimated cost, logistics, technology, and social and environmental factors. An alternative may be considered reasonable even if it is outside the legal jurisdiction of the BLM because it may serve as the basis for modifying congressional approval in light of the analysis (40 CFR 1502.14(c)); Forty Questions No. 2(b)).
  • Each fully-developed alternative represents a different land use plan amendment that addresses and/or resolves the identified planning issues in different ways.
  • Each alternative will include a different suite of potential planning decisions to address the issues. Some potential planning decisions may be common to multiple or all alternatives.
  • Goals typically pertain to all alternatives (will not vary by alternative). Objectives, allowable uses, and management actions may (1) be consistent across alternatives, and/or (2) vary by alternative. A plan could include some objectives that vary by alternative, and other objectives that are consistent across alternatives.
  • Goals typically apply to the entire planning area. Objectives, allowable uses, and management actions may (1) apply to the planning area as a whole, and/or (2) be specific to certain geographic areas, such as those listed below:
  1. Landscape-level systems (such as ecosystems and watersheds);
  2. Specific resources (such as threatened and endangered species and cultural sites);
  3. Areas (such as allotments and special management units); and
  4. Areas needing restoration or maintenance in order to meet land health standards.
  • All components of an individual alternative must be complementary. Desired outcomes, allowable uses, and management actions can (and probably will) conflict from one alternative to the next. However, they must not conflict within any one alternative. For example, an alternative should not allow all lands open to oil and gas leasing while having all lands designated as Visual Resource Management Class I or II.
  • When identifying allowable uses in alternatives, consider resource development potential, levels of use, and restrictions to best achieve the identified goals and objectives (see Analysis of the Management Situation above). These uses and restrictions are based on resource protection needs and social and economic factors, and represent the most appropriate mix of uses and protections for the resources in the planning area. Different protection and restoration measures and the availability of areas for certain uses, levels of uses, and restrictions are presented in alternatives.
  • In developing alternatives, the BLM must consider the relative scarcity of the values involved and the availability of alternative means and sites for realizing those values FLPMA Sec. 202 (43 U.S.C. 1712(c)(6)).
  • Alternatives should be developed in an open, collaborative manner, to the extent possible.


Analyze the effects of alternatives

43 CFR 1610.4-6 requires the Field Manager to “estimate and display the physical, biological, economic, and social effects of implementing each alternative considered in detail.” The analysis should include information on direct, indirect and cumulative impacts as well as document the assumptions and time frames used.

1-FD-b.15 to 1-FD-b.17 — Draft RMP Amendment and EA/FONSI (Optional); Consultation with Other Agencies, as Needed, and Tribes; Consultation with BLM, as Needed

Although 40 CFR 1501.4(e)(2) requires the BLM to prepare a draft RMP amendment and draft EA/FONSI under certain limited circumstances, the preparation of a draft RMP amendment and draft EA/FONSI is generally not required. If a draft RMP amendment and a draft EA/FONSI are not required, and if the BLM chooses not to prepare them, no public comment period is required. Instead, the BLM may prepare a proposed RMP amendment and EA /FONSI immediately after formulating alternatives.

1-FD-b.18 to 1-FD-b.19 — Notify Public of Issuance of Draft RMP Amendment and EA/FONSI (Optional); Comment on Draft RMP Amendment and EA/FONSI (Optional)

If the BLM decides to prepare a draft RMP amendment and EA/FONSI it must allow for a public comment period of at least 30 days. If the amendment is related to an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) the public comment period must be at least 60 days.

1-FD-b.20 to 1-FD-b.21— Proposed RMP Amendment and EA/FONSI

The agency must prepare a proposed RMP amendment and EA/FONSI for all amendments that do not require an EIS. An EA is a concise public document that serves to help the agency determine whether an EIS or FONSI is required. It should include a brief assessment of the amendment and an analysis of the evidence relating to the need for an EIS. It should also include an analysis of the effects of the proposed action and an analysis of the alternatives. See 40 CFR 1508.9. A FONSI is a document prepared by a federal agency that briefly explains why an action will not have a significant effect on the human environment. See 40 CFR 1508.13. Most RMP amendments will only require an EA / FONSI. The proposed RMP amendment and EA / FONSI should be formatted as though it were an EIS. The FONSI should be signed. If the FONSI cannot be signed, an EIS should be prepared.

1-FD-b.22 and 1-FD-b.23 — Notify Public of Issuance of Proposed RMP Amendment and EA/FONSI; Protest Proposed RMP Amendment and EA/FONSI

A NOA is not published in the Federal Register for RMP amendments that do not require an EIS. Instead, field offices should use other methods to notify the public of the issuance of the proposed RMP amendment and EA / FONSI and of the beginning of the protest period. Alternative methods should include publication of legal notices in local newspapers. The protest period must last at least 30 days and all protests must be resolved before a decision record / RMP amendment is issued.

1-FD-a.24 to 1-FD-a.25 - Letter to Governor; Conduct Consistency Review

43 CFR 1610.3-2(e) requires the BLM State Director to submit the proposed RMP amendment, along with a letter identifying inconsistencies with state or local LUPs, programs, or policies, to the state Governor for a consistency review. The state Governor is given 60 days to provide the BLM with recommendations. Recommendations that were not raised during the amendment process must be submitted to the public for comment. If the State Director does not agree with the recommendations of the Governor, the Governor has 30 days to file an appeal with the Director of the BLM. The Director is required to accept the recommendations of the Governor if they "provide for a reasonable balance between the national interest and the State's interest." The BLM Land Use Planning Handbook recommends that the consistency review and the protest period occur simultaneously. No decision record may be issued until the Governor's recommendations are addressed.

1-FD-a.26 - Determine Need for Notice of Significant Change

If protest letters or recommendations from the Governor require substantial modification of the proposed RMP amendment and EA/FONSI, the BLM must announce the intended changes to the public and provide a 30-day comment period. The BLM must respond to the comments, and in some cases are required to issue a supplemental RMP amendment and EA/FONSI. See 40 CFR 1502.9(c)(1)-(4).

1-FD-b.27 – Decision Record / RMP Amendment

The BLM may not issue the decision record and RMP amendment until it resolves all public protests and comments from the Governor. The decision record should precede (or coincide with) the issuance of the RMP amendment. See 40 CFR 1506.1.



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